Thursday, March 28, 2013

The 14th Station--Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

In the novel, The Living, by Annie Dillard, is a funeral scene where one of the characters, Norval, reads  pompously from Scripture, "O death, where is thy sting?" To which Hugh, sitting in the pews, thinks, "Just about everywhere, since you ask."

What do we say when we stand by the grave? Not much. The Preacher offers some word she hopes will comfort. But we don’t hear them. We don’t even see our surroundings. The flowers. The casket. The bright, sunshiny day. We sit there like we’re in a fog. We hardly remember the service at the church. Our loved one is dead and we don’t know what to do.

We’re like those two trudging, slowly trudging as if in slow motion to Emmaus. They had heard the Easter news—but they hadn’t really heard it. “We had hoped,” they told the stranger, “that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Are there sadder words in the Bible than these? We had hoped. But that hope had been shattered by Calvary and that awful death that Jesus should not have had to endured.

I have just finished a Grief Support Group. We sat around in a circle for eight weeks. We told stories about Mamas and babies and Papa’s and wives and husbands. All gone. And so we told stories and shed tears and comforted one another. But grief for some was still raw and they were uncertain of this terrible unknown journey. They identify with this last dark station. Jesus lies in the tomb—sealed shut by Roman guards so his fans would not take the body away and claim he was still alive. That mausoleum, that jar of ashes that grave with the headstone—we know don’t we? We know.

We stand here and ponder this last station. It isn’t the end—but who knows that when the tomb is sealed shut and you are still in shock and the tears come at the strangest times—what it really means. It means that Jesus was in the hands of the Father—the Father whose prayer he prayed toward the end, “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

Years ago a friend lost his little girl with cancer. He was devastated and people from all over surrounded him and reached out. I wrote him a note telling him I did not know what to say but that I lifted him and his family up to the care of the father. Weeks later I received a reply, “Thank you or what you did not say.” So here, as in that little circle of mourners I just finished—there is not much to say. But this we know. He is one with us. He traveled the road we take all the way to the end. Along the way he wept for friends who should not have died. He wept over a city that did not know. And there on the cross, I think between the agony of pain--tears, more even than blood--trickled down his cheeks. So there is not much to say as we stop at this Station. Oh, we can talk about Easter and all its wonder. But not yet. This is the day to ponder our losses and our own finitude. Isaiah was right, “Surely he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows.”

(My gratitude goes to the First Baptist Church, Aiken, SC for sharing the prints of the Stations of the Cross, by the African artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya whose original work is found in Saint Paul's Church in Nigeria.)



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